Exodus 17:1–7 (NRSV)
17From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2The people quarreled with Moses, and said, "Give us water to drink." Moses said to them, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?" 3But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?" 4So Moses cried out to the Lord, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me." 5The Lord said to Moses, "Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink." Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, "Is the Lord among us or not?"
We drown daily in a flood of water metaphors, even not counting the ones signifying our sacramental realities. Many of us may be tempted to read these devotions and go immediately metaphorical, drifting away from the materiality inextricably bound to the narrative reality of Exodus 17 and searching for the so-called deeper meanings of “wilderness” and “water” and “thirst.”
It is quite tempting to ignore how preciously God created and creates water’s terrestrial materiality. I know this temptation, especially because I am sitting here, privileged, in Minneapolis, the City of Lakes, looking out over our beloved Loring Pond, and living luckily in a state that often boasts of its 10,000 lakes.
Still, readers, know the basic truth. Earth’s creatures across the globe increasingly, and inequitably, suffer the most pressing water crisis of our times. Does Lent’s lament today—“Is the Lord among us or not?”—remain reasonable or even seem speakable?
Come, Holy Spirit, breathe life once more into your thirsting creatures in each and every nook and cranny of this good Earth. Amen.